Staff's View of Christian Group Backward

Letters to the Editors

To the editors:

One size does not fit all, and the Crimson editorial which argues that an organization based upon religious beliefs should not be able to discriminate on the basis of those same religious beliefs in its leadership suggests either a fundamental ignorance of the nature of religious belief, or a determination in the name of “non-discrimination” to discriminate against a Christian student group which takes its Christian identity and principles seriously (Editorial, “A Discriminatory Clause,” April 15).

Full participation in a club, logic would suggest, is consistent with pursuing the aims and ends of the club. Dogmatic professions of faith are what religious communities usually require of their members, and most certainly of their leaders. It does make an enormous difference to the integrity of a Christian club in the evangelical tradition if its leaders are unwilling to subscribe to the orthodox Christian beliefs to which the club is committed. That the Crimson should argue that “the purpose of the group is irrelevant,” boggles the mind.

This foolish contention is exceeded only by the even more absurd assertions that “Leaders should be interested in—and effective at—fulfilling the group’s mission, but they should not be restricted based upon profession of faith.” But what if, and this is certainly the case with Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship (HRCF), the “mission” and “purpose” of the group is in fact faith-based? How can a profession of faith be irrelevant in the leadership of a faith-based group? In the name of fairness, would you expect that the leadership of Alcoholics Anonymous should be open to confirmed drunkards, or even to those who had fundamental doubts about the basic tenants of AA? The political analogy which follows is a tempting but fallacious one: the political model does not fit all groups, and it becomes a contortionist’s nightmare when one tries to apply the “logic” of political clubs to faith-based ones.

The Young Republicans or the Young Democrats may vary on various party positions; but as these are coalitional rather than confessional entities, some degree of internal variety is permitted. A faith-based group is by its nature not coalitional but confessional: certain beliefs are at the core of the core values. A leader who liked “prayer, socializing and community,” but “who does not believe in the resurrection,” could in The Crimson’s view “make a great leader.” Perhaps so, but not of a group which is committed to the proclamation of the resurrection of its leader and namesake, Jesus Christ—no small point in the week in which Christians celebrate Easter as the defining moment of their faith.

And besides, by what right, divine or otherwise, does the Crimson or the Undergraduate Council, for that matter, determine for Christian groups the nature of their leadership?

The Committee on College Life was wise to recognize HRCF’s legitimate claims to distinctive qualities for leadership. The Harvard community has been well-served by HRCF for well over half a century, and HRCF for as long by leaders who are prepared to subscribe to its faith positions. If there is any discrimination going on in this debate, it is the unseemly discrimination of The Crimson against an explicitly Christian student group, and the particulars of the faith which provides the basis of its identity.

The Crimson’s position is not tolerant, neither is it pluralistic, nor inclusive. Let us call it what it is: hostile, rampantly secular, and overtly anti-Christian.

Such an attitude toward Christian groups, the fundamentals of the Christian faith and the student leadership of a Christian community of faith is as unacceptable at Harvard as it is unworthy of Cambridge’s “only breakfast table daily.”

I salute those of your board who had the good judgement to dissent from your unwise and inappropriate editorial.

Rev. Peter J. Gomes

April 15, 2003

The writer is Plummer professor of Christian Morals and Pusey minister in the Memorial Church.